Closing the Gender Pay Gap requires a deeper understanding of cultural factors and a more balanced approach to the traits that financial sector organisations look for in senior managers, according to new research from Questback, the global leader in enterprise feedback management and Conflux, Assessment Psychologists.

The UK financial sector shows an average pay disparity of over 30% in favour of men, the largest of any business sector. Despite this, 69% of women and 67% of men employed within the sector said their employer was doing ‘a great job’ of providing equality of opportunity based on gender. Furthermore, 72% of men and 68% of women believed that people succeeded on merit within their organisation. This figure rose to over 90% for senior managers, suggesting that those with the most power to influence and drive change are the least likely to acknowledge the severity of the problem.

Echoing work from the Office National Statistics (ONS) that found that around two-thirds of the Gender Pay Gap was due to unexplained factors, this research shows that the mismatch between perception and reality is largely explained by cultural factors, which exert a powerful and largely unseen influence, preventing women reaching better-paid senior leadership roles. The findings demonstrate that simply imposing quotas is not the answer to reducing the Gender Pay Gap as this approach merely addresses the symptoms rather than the underlying cultural cause.

When asked to rank the leadership traits the organisation valued and rewarded most in hiring and promotion decisions, both male and female respondents highlighted traits that they themselves identified as ‘masculine’ such as assertiveness, competitiveness and confidence, ahead of ‘feminine’ characteristics including empathy and compassion. This means that recruitment, promotion and reward decisions are biased in favour of men, resulting in leadership teams with a deficit in these important traits.

Employees however, do recognise the need for change – when asked what the optimal balance of characteristics should be, respondents placed a greater emphasis on more feminine traits.

“Our research highlights the underlying reasons for the Gender Pay Gap, and points to the importance of unconsciouscultural factors in the low numbers of women in senior roles,” said John Wilkinson, General Manager, UK, Questback.“Eliminating the gap needs to be a business imperative. More balanced senior teams are better-placed to manage risk, drive innovation and customer centricity, ultimately improving business performance. Management at all levels need to be much more self-aware and critical of how hiring and promotion decisions are made and talent is managed.”